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Dogs and Compulsive Scratching, Licking, and Chewing

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Are you going crazy listening to your dog scratching his ears all night long? Have you about had it with your dog licking her paw nonstop? At your wit’s end over your dog biting his own tail?

If you think you’re uncomfortable, imagine how your dog feels.

Compulsive scratching, licking, and chewing behaviors are quite common in dogs and have a variety of causes. They can also be harmful. One of the first signs your dog has a problem might be the development of a “hot spot” -- a red, wet, irritated area that arises from persistent chewing, licking, scratching or rubbing. Although hot spots, or "acute moist dermatitis," can occur anywhere on your dog’s body, they are most often found on the head, chest, or hips. Because dogs often incessantly scratch, lick, or bite at an area once it becomes irritated, hot spots can become large and incredibly sore rather quickly.

 

Reasons Why Dogs Compulsively Scratch, Lick, or Chew

Dogs scratch, lick, or chew for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from allergies to boredom to parasite infestation:

  • Allergies. When dog scratching gets out of hand, it is often the result of allergies to food or environmental triggers, including mold and pollen. Dogs may also develop a skinirritationcalled contact dermatitis when they encounter substances like pesticides or soap.
  • Boredom or anxiety. Just as people with anxiety might bite their nails or twirl their hair, dogs can have physical responses to psychological upset, too. In fact, some dogs develop a condition akin to human obsessive-compulsive disorder. It can manifest itself in scratching, licking, or chewing behaviors that can cause severe damage.
  • Dry skin. A variety of factors, including winter weather and fatty acid deficiencies, can cause dry skin in dogs. Your pet may respond to the discomfort by scratching or licking at her skin or fur.
  • Hormonal imbalances. If your dog’s body is not producing enough thyroid hormone or putting out too much cortisol, superficial skin infections can occur. You may notice small, red spots and your dog may scratch or lick as if bothered by allergies.
  • Pain. When trying to determine why your dog is licking or chewing excessively, be sure to consider the possibility that something is making him physically uncomfortable. For instance, if you notice your dog biting his paw repeatedly, he could have a thorn or sharp stone stuck in his foot pad. Compulsive chewing or licking can also be a response to orthopedic problems, including arthritis and hip dysplasia.
  • Parasites. Among the most common causes for compulsive dog licking, chewing, or scratching behaviors are fleas, ticks, and mites. Although ticks are often visible to the naked eye, fleas often go unseen until there is a large infestation, and mites are microscopic. So don’t assume that your dog isn’t suffering from parasites just because you can’t see them.

 

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